Romain Bardet knows that winning the 2018 Tour de France, or even repeating his podium finishes from the past two editions, will be a tall order, but the Frenchman is refusing to give up hope and is holding out for an opportunity to present itself in the Pyrenees.
Bardet currently sits fifth overall as the race pauses for its second rest day. He's 3:21 down on leader Geraint Thomas, 1:42 down on Chris Froome, 1:31 down on Tom Dumoulin, and 43 seconds down on Primoz Roglic.
The Frenchman rolled the dice on Alpe d'Huez on stage 12, but was unable to put any time into Thomas, Froome or Dumoulin, who have emerged as the three clear favourites for the podium. Bardet even lost eight seconds to them on Saturday's finish at Mende. As such, as his AG2R La Mondiale team sat down for their rest-day press conference in Carcassonne on Monday, Bardet was asked if he had revised his ambitions.
"The objective has always been the same - to do as well as possible. The race will decide what position that is," Bardet said.
"I don't know of a Tour de France that unfolds exactly as you imagine it. You have to be reactive, adapt to the circumstances. Grand Tours are decided in the third week, and that's what makes me most ambitious. But with the fatigue that comes in the third week, other scenarios could appear."
The final week of the 2018 Tour contains three mountain stages in the Pyrenees, one flat stage, and a time trial on the penultimate day that will wrap up the overall classification ahead of the final-day procession to Paris.
Barring his efforts on Alpe d'Huez, Bardet has not spread his wings like he has in recent years, but he insisted the opportunity will come. The race has been dominated by Team Sky so far and even if Bardet found it difficult to see the expulsion of Gianni Moscon making any real difference, he suggested he might find allies of circumstance in some of his other rivals.
"The opening has not presented itself yet for me. If you don't go on the attack it's not necessarily due to a lack of ambition, it's being realistic," Bardet said.
"[Nairo] Quintana is like me, he knows he has to crack the rouleurs. I don't see Movistar resting on their laurels, and I think Dan Martin isn't satisfied with where he is. A lot of people want to move up. Simply put, Sky are very strong. There might be one opportunity on this Tour, and you have to take it."
The race heads into the Pyrenees on Tuesday with a stage that goes over the Col de Menté and Col du Portillon before a descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon. Wednesday's stage is the highly-anticipated day that packs Peyragudes, the Col de Val Louron-Azet and the Col du Portet into 65 kilometres, while Friday's longer stage takes in the Aspin, Tourmalet, and Aubsique. The GC battle concludes with Saturday's rolling 31km time trial in the Basque region.
"The 65km stage will truly diminish the collective influence of teams and it should allow the leaders to show themselves without being guided along by teammates," Bardet said.
"There could be fireworks early on, and the Col du Portet is very demanding, very long. It's the stage where there should be the biggest gaps. The hierarchy will largely be established on Wednesday evening."
Especially with the time trial coming up, Bardet knows it's a chance he cannot miss. As he said: "I don't want to go home and harbour regrets for a year."
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